Rosy Thornton launches her latest book in Woodbridge
PUBLISHED: 16:22 06 July 2016 | UPDATED: 16:22 06 July 2016
Lawyer Rosy Thornton unleashed her imagination and found herself writing fiction. Catherine Larner talked to her about her latest volume of short stories - to be launched in Woodbridge - inspired by the countryside around her Blaxhall home
For most of us, Blaxhall means one thing – The Ship, a traditional village pub renowned for its real ale, home cooking, and for its regulars bursting into song or wringing out a tune on the squeeze box. It’s also an offsite stage for the summer’s FolkEast festival.
It’s clear the pub is quite a draw, but in addition to the ubiquitous village hall and church, Blaxhall has a youth hostel, a common (which is home to rare species of flora and fauna), and also the legendary Blaxhall Stone.
Just a few miles from Orford and Woodbridge, the village is tucked into the Suffolk countryside and, if you don’t know it now, you are unlikely to discover it by accident.
“Nobody uses it as a cut-through because it takes forever,” says resident and author Rosy Thornton.
“The roads in and out are so narrow that if you meet another car you have to pull over into the entrance for a field to let them go by. And everybody gets lost here. All the roads look the same and they don’t have names.” Rosy has been living here, in a cottage down a sandy lane, for just five years. She was brought up in East Bergholt and went to school in Ipswich, then studied law at Cambridge.
“I stayed to do a PhD and got a lectureship and never left. But I’ve kept roots here. Friends and family still live in the area, and I’m a ticket holder at Portman Road, so we’ve always come back every Saturday in the winter months.
“We’ve been homesick for Suffolk. In Blaxhall there’s no street lighting, nothing. Unless the tractors are going or the nightingale is singing, it’s silence from 10 o’clock at night. I love it, it’s wonderful.”
While only visiting at weekends and holidays, Rosy has run the cake stall at the village fete, and her partner attends allotment meetings so they feel involved in the community and inspired by their life here. And when Rosy felt the urge to write, it was the wildlife, the landscape, the generations of villagers, and the sense of the ethereal in Blaxhall and the surrounding Suffolk landscape that she wanted to describe.
Her collection of short stories, called Sandlands, has just been released by Sandstone Press, a small, independent publishing house based in Scotland. There are tales of the white doe appearing through the dark wood and the blue-winged butterflies rising in a cloud. There’s a Mr Napish feeding a fox rescued from the floods, an owl which has been guarding a cache of long-lost letters, a nightingale’s song, which echoes the sound of a loved voice, and in a Martello tower a Dr Whybrow listens to ghostly whispers. There are references to Snape, Campsea Ashe, Tunstall, Dunwich, Framlingham and Ipswich, as well as Blaxhall.
The short stories are a departure for Rosy. Previously she has written women’s contemporary fiction, five novels which, in the main, could be described as romantic comedy and were well received. But she completed them while holding down a full-time job and bringing up a young family.
“I love teaching, but it’s very different from writing fiction. Lawyers are famous for having absolutely no imagination,” she laughs. “They’re pedantic, analytical thinkers. I think it was the other half of my brain rebelling in my early 40s. I found myself writing stories and then it became an obsession.” This time, instead of the commitment in time and energy involved in a novel, she wanted to enjoy the freedom of writing short stories.
“They are such a joy to write,” she says. “It’s like painting a picture – you’re sketching lightly. You don’t have to fill in all the boring sky and grass, just the interesting bit in the middle!” It has given her the opportunity to experiment with her writing, to take more risks, exploring the supernatural and magical, darker and sadder themes, and describing wildlife in ways she would never have pursued for a whole novel. There’s also a serious ecological message touched upon in these tales and she hopes that will have a wide-ranging impact.
“The setting doesn’t really matter – it could be Suffolk, or it could be in America – but it’s the sense that people need to stand still for a minute and reconnect with the rhythms of nature and the fact that we are creatures in this eco system as well.
“One of the things I’ve wanted to share is the intense pleasure I’ve had in coming to live here, and rerooting myself in the landscape and the seasons. It’s about specialness, but it’s also about universality – the natural world is there for everybody if you look for it.”
Rosy Thornton will be launching Sandlands at Woodbridge Library at 7.30pm on Thursday July 21. Admission is free and places reserved by email via firstname.lastname@example.org